By Taryn Southern
I have experienced so many different facets of life in my career as a content creator.
Humans crave stability. As we get older, we tend to become more risk-averse. We look for more stable careers, with gradual success and steady salary.
So it is so intriguing just how many young people set out to be content creators. Including me.
My path as a content creator contains so many twists and turns that it has never felt very stable. I feel like a frog leaping from lily pad to lily pad.
But that’s what I love about it.
I uploaded my first YouTube video in 2007, long before you could even make money on the platform. At that time I had just moved to Los Angeles. I really was interested in pursuing a career as a television host and an actress.
I made a few videos over the years because I was feeling pretty disempowered by the process in Hollywood - of being seen, getting the agent, getting the auditions. It felt like my full-time job was something I had no creative control over. So being able to just make something felt incredibly fulfilling.
As my channel was gaining some traction, I was invited to Philip DeFranco’s house. I don’t know if he owned the house or was renting it, but it was way nicer than my house.
That night I thought, “Why am I doing this TV/film thing when this other thing is so much more fun?” (So thanks, Phil.)
So I leapt into fun. I made parody videos and comedy songs, which were my favorite type of content to create. I loved participating in YouTube while commenting on the culture itself.
Once I was fortunate enough for my videos to gain traction, I leveled up as a creator. I started getting television opportunities and branded deals.
But working with brands can either empower you or destroy you as a creator.
I used to host a web series Do Not Disturb for Marriott hotels where I would interview fellow YouTubers, comedians, and creators of the time. And it was a wonderful long-term partnership where we ended up working together for over two years on a myriad of projects. It did not feel like the revolving door brand deals that are fairly common.
On the other hand, I did not like the revolving door feeling that one-off brand deals left me with. And that’s ultimately why I took the leap and left YouTube.
After YouTube, I began exploring innovative technologies. I produced a documentary I AM HUMAN, about the world’s first “cyborgs.” I wrote, composed and produced an album with AI. Through Google’s Creator Lab, I created an award-winning emerging tech VR series that is now featured in museums and digital art fairs around the world.
I’m in a very serious field now. And over the years, I’ve taken several hundred videos off my channel.
There are parts of that silly self-presentation from YouTube that I miss a lot. And then there's 100 percent a part of me that feels like I’ve evolved past that.
I have evolved as a creator, and a lot of that content no longer reflects who I am now.
I have no problem with the content that I have made over the years. It's a reflection of where I, and society, was at that time in my life. I would be quite content with all of my content staying up in a kind of contextualized time capsule, where people could understand that it was made 12 years ago.
But a Google search of my name doesn’t come with that context.
And I think that that's been a theme throughout my whole career - change. I'm finding the places where there's just untapped potential, this opportunity to explore, and an opportunity to do something maybe faster or more efficiently.
As a result, I have been quick to try new things. Maybe to my own detriment.
Whatever the case, YouTube created a great foundation for me. It was a pioneering space to play in while I was on it, because there were so few rules. Each person had to figure it out on their own, and we all were figuring it out as we went along and built businesses out of it.
Creation is evolving. As a creator who works mainly with technological advancements now, I'm blown away at the kinds of tools that content creators have that we didn't have six years ago. We can't even imagine. We can't even imagine the ways that this will impact content creators, or humans in the broader scope.
But even beyond technology, content creators have found new ways to connect with their audience that we could not have imagined on old-school YouTube.
For one, I have found the evolution towards authenticity to be a really encouraging one. When I was in the YouTube world, there was a lot more self-presentation happening. Not because people didn't want to be authentic, but just because I don't think the world was ready for that.
The world looked at entertainment in two categories: film and television. A lot of the YouTubers used a presentational style just like TV hosting, where we came up with a character. I came up with a character, a version of myself that I was willing to present to the world and, and very little reality made its way into the channel.
Now I just appreciate that people can show up how they are, in their own space, and tell the truth about their lives. It kind of peels back the curtain on what's really going on in this space that tends to be glamorized in unhealthy ways.
I post every so often, but I left YouTube years ago. All that said, who knows if I’ll come back?
So maybe I’ll jump back into YouTube someday, maybe not. But looking at it from where I am now, maybe I wouldn’t have left if Future Taryn had told me a thing or two.
But she’s here to do it for you.
If you’re getting into content creation while you’re young, here’s my advice:
You have all this energy to put to good use. You can pull these crazy 12 to 15 hour days, you can devote so much of yourself to this because you do not have as many other responsibilities. So there is something to be said for capitalizing on that.
Ask yourself: Where are you now? And what are you capable of doing? And what are your 5-10 year goals? Then strike while the iron is hot.
Future Taryn would also like to point out that it’s okay to take leaps.
I'm sure a lot of creators feel fearful when they see their numbers start to drop, when the engagement isn’t what it used to be. If they've spent their entire life creating content, they don't know where to go next.
As someone who’s jumped through a few careers, I know it can be really scary, but I think the lessons that you learn as storytellers, as marketers, really as filmmakers can be applied to every single industry. So don't get discouraged if all of a sudden the channel isn't working, or you're no longer feeling happy with the pace of what's required of you. Just be honest with yourself.
Find whatever else you're curious about. Find that industry you can become indispensable in. And take that leap. It’s not as scary on the other side.